Customer Reviews: Swan Song
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HALL OF FAMEon August 16, 2002
The apocalyptic genre is an endearing phenomenon in fiction. Even after the collapse of the Cold War, authors are still pumping out new novels about the end of civilization. That's probably due to the fact that nuclear war isn't the only way to kill off the human race; Stephen King got a lot of mileage out of a killer virus in "The Stand." This book, by the excellent storyteller Robert McCammon, resembles King's classic novel in several respects, but McCammon sticks with the classic nuclear annihilation scenario in "Swan Song," a book written as the Cold War was winding down in the late 1980's.
"Swan Song" starts out on a bleak note, and quickly goes down hill from there. The world is in turmoil as terrorists use nuclear bombs with impunity, the U.S. and the USSR constantly engage in skirmishes around the world, and the economy does a nosedive straight into the ground. Inevitably, the bombs are launched and the world erupts in a thousand mushroom clouds. This is all within the first hundred pages or so. What follows is the real story, and McCammon pulls out all the stops introducing us to the characters that drive the story.
Just like McCammon's novel "Stinger," there are many major characters in "Swan Song." McCammon introduces us to Sister Creep, a New York bag lady fostering a horrific personal tragedy; Josh, a 7' black wrestler (known as Black Frankenstein) with a heart of gold; Colonel "Jimbo" Macklin, a former war hero with an ominous shadow dogging his every move; and Roland Croninger, a wise beyond his years child who grows into Macklin's sadistic acolyte.
This is post-apocalypse, so there is the unavoidable good vs. evil theme running through the book. The good is Swan, a young girl who has the power to renew earth's ecosystem. The bad is the man with the scarlet eye, a shape shifter who makes King's Randall Flag look like the Osmond family. The other characters revolve around these two figures as the grand finale of the novel nears.
McCammon has the ability to make his characters endearing and genuine. There are no cardboard cutouts in this book. Even tertiary characters are developed with loving care. It's relatively easy to draw evil characters because evil is easy to see. What is difficult is to craft characters on the other side of the moral coin, and McCammon does it with seeming ease. You learn to really care about these people, something that doesn't happen often in books of this genre.
The atmosphere in "Swan Song" is bleak and oppressive. McCammon has no qualms about presenting life in a post-nuclear world. Cruelty is presented as normal behavior, and characters are mutilated or killed off quite frequently. Warlords battle for control of the country while little villages try to recreate a sense of community. The endless description of a shattered world slowly instills in the reader a sense of despair. McCammon's vivid portrait of a world gone mad certainly resurrects images of the Cold War and its shrieking insanity, when the world lived under the constant shadow of agonizing death.
While "Swan Song" clocks in at a hefty 950 pages, its pages pass by like a swift summer breeze. In the final analysis, McCammon's message in this book is one of hope; no matter how badly the human race messes things up, salvation may still be within reach. That is a message that transcends any age, and that is the significance of "Swan Song."
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on November 6, 2001
Written in the mid-eighties, the book describes in chilling detail the nightmare of the times, i.e., nuclear holocaust. Some of the background events may be a bit outdated, but in light of the recent terrorist attacks we know there is still the threat of mass destruction. So my point is that the book is still pretty darn scary! The first couple of hundred pages that describe the nuclear attack and immediate aftermath are terrifying. The horrors that are described throughout the book are gruesome. America has become a scorched and barren landscape. The survivors miraculously scratch out an existence and somehow keep alive the hope of a future in which the sun will shine again and the land will bear fruit again. Ultimately, the story is about the struggle between good and evil, and how the stress of tragic events brings out the best in some and the worst in others.
For a book of over 900 pages, it is a surprisingly fast read, and there are no lulls. McCammon is a superb storyteller who has created memorable characters and a detailed setting. Swan Song is a great book that I think ranks along side The Stand, which for years has stood as my favorite horror novel.
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on August 12, 1999
My aunt lent me this book and I figured it sounded a lot like the Stand, which at the time was my favorite novel. I read Swan Song every night for a week and a half. It was way better then the stand, and wasn't anything like it aside from the 'end of the world' scenario and an evil rising to threaten the survivors, so I'm not even going to compare the two books. The characters in Swan Song are so richly developped that you begin to feel for them. It's almost like you want to protect Swan just as much as the characters do. The last hundred pages or so are simply outstanding. It was so suspenseful that I could hardly sit still, and when it was over, I wished there was more to it then its 956 pages. The ending is what got me the most. There couldn't have been a more fitting end to this amazing story. I enjoyed everything about this book. It never gets boring, it doesn't have seven hundred characters in it all doing different things (like another novel i already said i wouldn't compare it to), but instead three main groups. The symbolism is just amazing, and the underlying themes and story is incredible. I can't say enough about it, so read it for yourself.
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on February 2, 2013
I write this review in the knowledge that probably no one will read it - there are already over 700 reviews and almost all of them are five star. This review is part of that legion and that's fine by me.

So given I am writing this review for me - I will take some licence. Firstly I have read loads of PA ficton ( favorite so far is The Old Man and the Wasteland), but I hesitated with my purchase of Swan Song. I kept coming across references and praise of Swan Song. At $10 is was a lot more than many Kindle reads I buy. Then I thought, the last few books I read were only a couple of bucks - but they were c#%^ and pretty short too. So I thought, Swan Song is over 800 pages - so even if it is just okay it is still better value. So I bought it and have not experienced buyers remorse.

Swan Song draws you in. It is a different type of PA novel as it as a mystical undertone. Not in the kind of 'roll your eyes, give me a break' way - but a spiritual side to the story that adds to its depth and humanity. There are several concurrent plots which weave together as the story unfolds. Each sub plot is interesting. What surprised me was that I became so engrossed with one story line, I literally forgot about some other characters and was surprised when they reappeared. It was ' oh of course, I had completly forgotten about you guys'. That is a really good thing showing just how easy it is to become lost in the story.

If I was being ultra critical I would say that there was a certain 'convenience' of events towards the end. Also - and yes this is just a personal bugbear, the author has obviously had limited exposure to horses. Horses do not lap water like a dog - they suck it. They also really don't behave in the way Mule did. Yes, yes I know it is a minor point - but it was one of the few times in the story where an inaccuracy brought me out of the story and back to reality.

I see many reviewers have compared this to other books ( and no I am not going to reference the books). This really gets my goat. Swan Song is an original work that stands high in its own right. It is , in my opinion, almost insulting to say 'its just like xyz', 'it's as good as xyz'. Swan Song is a great read - enough said.
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on November 10, 2003
Most of the United States is wiped out after a nucleur holocaust. The Devil aka "Man With The Scarlet Eye" sees this as his opportunity to take over the world. However, there is a special girl named Swan with extraordinary powers that is standing in his way. "Swan Song" takes the reader on a ten year journey that follows the war of Swan and others around her, fighting against the Devil and his followers.
The first thing that I would like to get out of the way is that I absolutely hate to read. However, a friend of mine told me how great this book was, so I decided to come on Amazon to check out what others thought of it. I was amazed when I discovered that it received nothing but 5 star reviews. To put all that positive feedback to the test, I decided to give in and read the book. The book is over 950 pages long and I read it in just over two days. I was spellbound with just how great this book was. "Swan Song" is the only book that I have ever read, that I wanted to read more than once. The different settings, the outstanding characters, and the overall suspense and terror make it an epic masterpiece. The book reads at an extremely fast pace and the 956 pages fly by. This is one of the rare occasions that you end up begging for more after a novel of that size. The different settings that McCammon illustrates are incredible. All add a background of suspense, courage, love, and terror. The size of the story is great because it spawns over 10 years, and you get to see the characters develop not only in age, but in personality as well.
McCammon has the story unfold like a chess match between The Devil and God. They each have their respective pieces, and the board is the United States. God's main pieces are Swan, a courageous bag lady named Sister Creep, and a professional wrestler named Josh. Swan is amazing with her display of power and love. Sister Creep is the story's main hero with her courage and determination to never give up. Josh survives with Swan and becomes her guardian. The love that he shows for Swan never dies, and he posseses super human strength and a big heart. The Devil's main pieces are - the psychotic Army Col Macklin and his protege' Roland Kroniger. Macklin and Roland are the two lone survivors of an underground army camp. Macklin takes Roland under his wing, and the two fight to build an army based society with them giving the orders. The Devil himself is a great character who will terrify you with his actions and array of different powers. The book offers many other memorable characters that all possess cetain strengths and different personalities that make them all enjoyable.
So take it from a guy who hates to read. If I was able to make my way through this book and love every minute of it, anyone can. Many readers become hesitant to take on a book of this size or magnitude. Don't be, because it will be the best time that you ever spend on a novel.
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on September 22, 2014
I have read this book over 12 times. Once you start reading this, you will have a difficult time putting it down. The author is so descriptive in his writing that you feel like you are watching a movie. I cannot understand why this had not been made into a movie. I'm not into reading much, but when I was in hospital for an injured back, I read this book in four days. It is addictive. I have since paid over $400.00 for a autographed first edition hardback with dust sleeve signed by the author and illustrator. I will read the paperback many more times. If you want to get lost in a book, then this is it.

I just read this for the 14th time. Still as good as the first time.
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on April 21, 2000
..but it comes pretty close. Sure, we don't know every detail of everyone's personality. Some of the minor characters seem sketched in without a lot of detail (but that's inevitable.. don't we all think of some people that way?). Some of the parts seemed to follow obvious formulas. But it was easy for me to look past those few flaws: this is after all, a work of science FICTION. Does anyone really believe God has some hand in the effects of nuclear radiation that will give everyone a different face? God isn't even mentoined or dwelled on too much, something I and any fellow agnostics find refreshing in such an epic book. But I digress.
Basically, you'll love Swan Song if you don't have the wrong expectations. It's an apocalyptic thriller, it's an action/adventure story, it's got some human drama, and there's some supernatural horror. I haven't read very many books that made me imagine so vividly what it would be like to be there.
By the way: this is in no way a ripoff of "The Stand." Are some people so devoid of imagination that they label all apocalypse-themed books as the same regardless of all their differences? Unlike "The Stand," this book has character growth, a real villain (a competent one, no less), and a real conflict at the end. And unlike King, McCammon doesn't rely on a (literal) Deus ex Machina ending to save his story. Pick up Swan Song if you're looking for a good read.. but be warned, it's hard to put down.
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on October 29, 2011
This review is not my review, but my brothers. I purchased this book for him and he absolutely loved it! He said he read every word of all 850+ pages in about 5 days and couldn't wait to get another! He said, "Absolutely the best book I've read yet," and "Swan song is unlike anything I've read yet." Based on his letter to me, this was a hit!
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on September 16, 2006
I teach high school literature and this book is saved as a treat for those (who get permission) who have good taste and are not afraid of a big book. Students who have graduated have told me years later it was the best book they have ever read, and many buy a copy for themselves to keep and recommend to others. It has been voted as best book by many gifted students and upper level readers. Each time I read it, I enjoy it as well. It's good stuff.
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on January 14, 2012
A guy sitting at the bar I was working at 15 years ago had a real scary tattoo on his arm. My mom asked about it and he told her it was the cover of his all-time favorite book. I teased her that the scary guy liked her and the next day he brought Swan Song in for me to let her read. His only condition was that he MUST get his copy back. We looked at that book for a month figuring out how to get out of reading this super thick book. When she found herself without a book to read she picked this one up and started reading. I teased her and she said it may be the best book she had ever read. I thought she was trying to hook me into reading it because she seemed to have read it too quickly for its generous content. She made me read it! I have never in my life been affected by a book like this. It was out of circulation so we have searched since to find it at every used book store and every garage sale we could find. A friend told me I could find it on The one I recently purchased for her for Christmas has a completely different cover. Much better! The other one was extremely scary looking and did not do this book justice. I should have bought 2 copies so I could lend one out because this one will not be leaving our hands! A MUST READ!! You,too,will not believe this book!
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